Apr 17, 2009
My deep, abiding passion sits at the confluence of cars and culture.
For a while I thought I wanted to be the guy drawing cars but I soon came to realise I was more interested in the effect that cars have on people. The same goes for the flip-side: as the needs and wants of a culture change, people effect change on cars. It’s an engrossing cycle of cultural cause and effect.
So it was that I started my working life as a design strategist for the car industry. Like a pig in muck, I delight in observing the whys and hows of the choices people make when they buy a car. Connecting the emotional dots between the prospective customer’s personal needs, surface composition or the “face” of a brand and the eventual purchasing decision is a fascinating experience.
The most important lesson I’ve learnt, however, is that in my work my personal view counts for naught.
I’ve driven 400 Bhp bahnstormers that have left me stone cold and angry with the world (BMW 750i, Mercedes CL), been totally enchanted by an oddball French coupe that left others infuriated with it’s dynamic mediocrity (Renault Laguna) and I adore Volvo 200s and Citroen CXs. Clearly my automotive passions fall outside the mainstream.
Personally, I am but one consumer among millions (and one that’s unlikely to ever spend money on a new car). Professionally, however, it’s my job to elicit the passions, desires and fears both from individual customers and the cultural world they inhabit. I then filter this cocktail into a form that helps designer and eventual owner find a happy medium, that elusive product that sets synapses (and wallets) alight.
Grant McCracken has published a fascinating piece examining Bob Lutz’s role in GMs downfall. He argues that it was the former Car Czar’s imposition of his personal views on what a car should be, rather than understanding American culture, that lead to a yawning disconnect between American consumers and GM.
Of Lutz’s single-mindedness, McCraken has this to say:
“In point of fact, he knew relatively little about our culture. What Lutz knew was cars, and what he liked about cars, by all accounts, was speed….He loved muscles cars because they went fast. Lutz was worse than average as a river captain. I think it’s fairly safe to say that Lutz did not ever grasp the muscle car revival (the one portrayed by Hollywood in XXX, The Fast and the Furious, and now Fast and Furious). He must have gloried in the power and the glory and all that sound. Just as surely, he must have been mystified by fact that it was being produced in some case [sic] by tiny, winged Hondas.”
McCracken suggests that Lutz, to disastrous effect, let his personal emotions and story get in the way of understanding those of of GM customers. Lest we forget, this is the man that in the midst of the post-Inconvenient Truth environmental zeitgeist, declared global warming “…a total crock of shit.”.
Head over to McCracken’s blog to read the full piece, including an idea (one that I heartily support) about how the disconnect could have been avoided and why GM’s future, no matter what the courts have in store, looks bleak even after Maximum Bob’s departure.
Post script: My choice for Detroit Chief Cultural Officer? Freeman Thomas.
[Source: Grant McCracken, Chief Culture Officer: fixing Detroit now, 2009. Glenn Hunter, GM’s Lutz On Hybrids, Global Warming And Cars As Art, 2008] [Image: Andrew Philip Artois Smith]